Those of you who know me, probably know I did a summit attempt of Mt Rainier back in 2009. For many reasons, including not knowing that I had (and still have) exercise induced asthma, I made it to 11,200 ft, the Ingraham Flats, before I had to turn around. I have since gone on to do other physically challenging activities like hiking Mt St Helens, completing the Tough Mudder and more recently climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. But Mt Rainier still haunts me. So I’ve decided to try again! My friend Lori and I will be leaving in a few days to head down to Ashford to begin our summit attempt. Since I’m gearing up for this trip, I thought I’d tell you about everything I learned during the first go-round (and hopefully it’ll help prepare me mentally, too). I think these tips are transferable to all mountain climbing experiences as well. I know you’re probably thinking, “You didn’t make it! Who are you to give me tips?” and I get it. But I learned a lot from that failure, what worked and more importantly, what didn’t. And since I’ll be trying again shortly, I’ll be putting my own advice to good use and will let you know how it goes!
It’s all about your attitude. I really think this is the most important determiner of your success. When I went into my first attempt, my head wasn’t there. I had just bought my first house, my dad had to drop out due to a knee injury, and probably most importantly, I felt that as a back country ski patroller, I had an advantage over everyone else. I was perhaps a bit cocky, even though I was also terrified. I had just been halfway up the mountain to Camp Muir two weeks before. I felt like I knew what to expect, but I also didn’t feel mentally there. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be there. This time I’m going into it with a much more positive attitude. I want to do this, and while I know more of what to expect, it also means I know exactly how hard this is. There is absolutely no underestimating the mountain and overestimating myself here. I believe I can do it, but it will by no means be easy.
Pro tip. When a company puts together an equipment list, follow it. All of it. One of the mistakes I made on my first attempt was thinking, “Oh I’m going in the summer. All these heavy-weight layers won’t be needed.” They are. Absolutely. Temps on the summit can go below zero, even in the summer. You want every layer you possibly can get. These companies don’t put random items on their lists to make you go out and buy more than you need. They put them there because more likely than not, you’ll need them. I thought I knew better than the people who do this all the time. Boy was I wrong. On a related note, I would rent mountaineering boots before you attempt your climb and practice hiking and walking in them. They were so much different feeling than my hiking boots, and I wished I had known this before I was on the mountain hiking in them for the first time.
One thing I’ve learned about altitude is that it can really affect your appetite. But you have to keep your energy up by eating a lot of food! Last time I bought the meal package because I thought it would be easier than trying to plan all the food out myself. And it was. However, I found that as I got up higher, I didn’t want to eat the food I had with me, but I had to. Perhaps if I had had food I liked a lot more, it would have been easier to get more of it down for better energy levels. This time I’m using the climb as a reason to eat all the foods I love and usually avoid due to them being “unhealthy”. The tour guide site even says “We suggest crackers, pizza, candy bars, jerky, chips, cookies, trail mix, fruits, Gu, energy bars, and hard candies” Pizza? Cookies? Chips? Bring it on! And of course I’ll have my summit Snickers.
This is actually one area I don’t think I made many mistakes before. I went hiking many, many times, with 50lbs of weight in my pack. I truly felt like I was in great shape and I still think I was. However for this coming trek I’ve been continuing with my Kilimanjaro training, doing a mix of weights, yoga and cardio, as well as hiking on the weekends. And while it’s possible to climb (some) mountains without hiking training, I’ve found that the best way to get in shape for hiking (and climbing) is by hiking. If you don’t have access to mountains, find stairs, maybe in your office building, and climb those with a heavy pack on your lunch break. Or at the very least, use the stair climber at the gym.
Choosing a guide service is very important. These people are responsible for making sure you learn the skills you need to successfully summit and for keeping you safe. You don’t want to put your life at risk just to save a couple bucks, right? It is possible to climb Mt Rainier on your own, but you still need a permit to go above Camp Muir (a guiding service will usually take care of this for you), and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t already a skilled mountaineer. Last time and now, I chose RMI. They are the original guiding service on Mt Rainier, and one of the most popular. Nearly everyone I know who has tried climbing this mountain has used them. I do feel like they were perhaps too quick to turn me around last time, but I understand that they have to focus on the group as a whole, making sure they stay safe. Hopefully it will be a non-issue this time!
So that’s it for now! I hope these tips help if you ever decide to climb Mt Rainier or another mountain. Once we get back from our trip, I’ll let you know how we do. Wish me luck!!